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The current study examined one key aspect of Linehan's (1993) biosocial theory; namely, that a combination of a highly emotional temperament with the experience of repeated emotional invalidation (the punishment of a person's subjective emotional experience) leads to a decrease in one's ability to regulate one's emotions. College female students were screened for emotional vulnerability and symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Eligible participants consented to complete a psychophysiological laboratory study. Laboratory study participants were randomly assigned to receive either invalidation or validation of their self-reported emotional responses to objectively upsetting images. Heart rate data (to assess vagal tone) and skin conductance data were collected to measure changes in emotion regulation and arousal levels, respectively. Lastly, participants performed a frustrating computerized math task to assess their ability to tolerate distress after the manipulation. Analyses using the large set of self-report data from the screening study supported the predicted relationships between the independent variables of emotional vulnerability and history of invalidation and the dependent variable of emotional dysregulation, and between emotional vulnerability and symptoms of BPD. In the smaller laboratory study, none of the predicted relationships were supported by the data. These results provide limited support for the biosocial theory, though future experimental studies using different analogues of invalidation might yield more supportive results.
A Dissertation Submitted to the Department of Psychology in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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